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in the Germany of 191 9. The guest who sat down to an
19 275


excellently cooked dinner of a thick peasant soup, a man's
size portion of beef, veal, or pork, potatoes in unlimited
quantity, bread that was almost white and made of real
wheat, and a few other vegetables thrown in, all for a cost
of two marks, might easily have imagined that all this
talk of food shortage was mere pretense. Surely this last
month before the beginning of harvest, in the last year
of the war, with the question of signing or not signing the
peace terms throbbing through all Germany, was the time
of all times to find a certain answer to the query of the out-
side world as to the truth of the German's cry of starvation.
But the answer one found in the smaller villages of Bavaria
would have been far from the true one of the nation at

Now and then my plans went wrong. Conditions dif-
fered, even in two towns of almost identical appearance.
Thus at Ingolstadt, which was large enough to have been
gaunt with hunger, there was every evidence of plenty.
Here I had expected trouble also of another sort. The
town was heavily garrisoned, as it had been even before the
war. Soldiers swarmed everywhere; at the inn where my
tramping appetite was so amply satisfied they surrounded
me on every side. I was fully prepared to be halted at
any moment, perhaps to be placed under arrest. Instead,
the more openly I watched military maneuvers, the more
boldly I put questions to the youths in uniform, the less I
was suspected. In Reichertshofen the night before, where
I had sat some time in silence, reading, in a smoke-clouded
beer-hall crowded with laborers from the local mills, far
more questioning glances had been cast in my direction.

On the other hand the hamlet I chose for the night some-
times proved a bit too small. One must strike a careful
average or slip from the high ridge of plenitude. Denken-
dorf, an afternoon's tramp north of the garrison city, was-
so tiny that the waddling old landlady gasped at my placid



assumption that of course she could serve me supper.
Beer, to be sure, she could furnish me as long as the evening
lasted ; das heste Zimmer — the very best room in the house —
and it was almost imposing in its speckless solemnity —
I could have all to myself, if I cared to pay as high as a whole
mark for the night! But food . . . She mumbled and
shook her head, waddled like a matronly old duck back and
forth between the "guest-room" and the kitchen, with its
massive smoked beams and medieval appliances, she
brought me more beer, she pooh-poohed my suggestion that
the chickens and geese that flocked all through the hamlet
might offer a solution to the problem, and at length dis-
appeared making some inarticulate noise that left me in
doubt whether she had caught an idea or had decided to
abandon me to my hungry fate.

The short night had fallen and I had fully reconciled
myself to retiring supperless when the kitchen door let in a
feeble shaft of light which silhouetted my cask-shaped hostess
approaching with something in her hands. No doubt she
was foisting another mug of beer upon me! My mistake.
With a complacent grunt she placed on the no longer visible
table two well-filled plates and turned to light a strawlike
wick protruding from a fiat bottle of grease. By its slight
rays I made out a heaping portion of boiled potatoes and
an enormous Pfannkuchen — the German cross between an
omelet and a pancake. It must have been a robust appe-
tite indeed that did not succumb before this substitute
for the food which Denkendorf , in the opinion of the land-
lady, so entirely lacked.

Meanwhile I had made a new acquaintance. A young
soldier in the uniform of a sergeant had for some time been
my only companion in the "guest-room." His face sug-
gested intelligence and an agreeable personality. For a
long time we both sipped our beer in silence at opposite
tables. I broke the ice at last, well aware that he would



not have done so had we sat there all night. As in the
older sections of our own country, so in the Old World it
is not the custom to speak unnecessarily to strangers.

He answered my casual remark with a smile, however,
rose, and, carrying his mug of beer with him, sat down on
the opposite side of my table. I took pains to bring out
my nationality at the first opportunity.

"American?" he cried, with the nearest imitation I had
yet heard in Germany of the indignant surprise I had
always expected that information to evoke, "and what are
you doing here?"

There was something more than mere curiosity in his
voice, though his tone could not quite have been called angry.
It was more nearly the German official guttural. I smiled
placidly as I answered, throwing in a hint, as usual, about
the food commission. He was instantly mollified. He
did not even suggest seeing my papers, though he announced
himself the traveling police force of that region, covering
some ten small towns. Within five minutes we were as
deep in conversation as if we had discovered ourselves to
be friends of long standing. He was of a naturally sociable
disposition, like all Bavarians, and his sociability was dis-
tinctly enhanced when I shared with him my last nibble
of chocolate and "split" with him one of my rare American
cigars. He had not had a smoke in a week, not even an
Ersatz one; and it was at least a year since he had tasted
chocolate. In return for my appalling sacrifice he insisted
on presenting me with the two eggs he had been able to
"hamster" during that day's round of duty. When I
handed them to the caisson-built landlady with instruc-
tions to serve us one each in the morning, my relations
with the police-soldier were established on a friendly basis
for life.

Before bedtime we had reached the point where he turned
his revolver over to me, that I might satisfy my curiosity



as to its inner workings. In return I spread all but one
of my official and pseudo-official papers out before him
in the flickering light of the grease wick, not because he had
made any formal request to see them, but that I might keep
him amused, as one holds the interest of a baby by flashing
something gaudy before it or holding a ticking watch to its
ear. Not, let it be plainly understood, that my new friend
was of low intellectual level. Far from it. A Niirnberger
of twenty-five who had seen all the war, on several fronts,
he was judicious and "keen," quite equal to his new posi-
tion as country gendarme. But there is something naive,
baby like in the Bavarian character even after it has been
tempered and remolded by wide and varied experience.

The next morning he insisted on rising early to accompany
me a few miles on my journey. He expressed his astonish-
ment that I carried no weapon, and though he laughed at
the notion that I was in any danger without one, he did
not propose that anything, should befall me on his "beat."
As we advanced, our conversation grew more serious. He
was not quite ready to admit that Germany had started
the war, but he was forceful in his assertion that the capi-
talists and the "Old German" party had wanted it. The
working-class, he insisted, would never have gone into the
war if those higher up had not made them think Germany
had been treacherously attacked, that England and France
had determined to annihilate her. He was still not wholly
convinced that those were not the facts, but he was enraged
at what he insisted were the crimes of the capitaHsts. It
goes without saying that he was a Socialist, his leanings
being toward the conservative side of that widely spread
party. He told several tales of fraternization with French
soldiers of similar opinions during his years in the trenches.
The republican idea, he asserted, had been much in evi-
dence among the working-classes long before the war,
but it had never dared openly show its head. For German



rulers, from Kaiser and princes down to his own army officers,
he had the bitterest scorn. Their first and foremost interest
in Hfe he summed up under the head of "women." Some
of his personal-knowledge anecdotes of the "high and
mighty" were not fit to print. His opinions of German
womanhood, or at least girlhood, were astonishingly low
for a youth of so naive and optimistic a character. On the
other hand he lapsed every little while into childlike boast-
ing of Germany's military prowess, quite innocently, as one
might point to the fertility or the sunshine of one's native
land. The Germans had first used gas; they had been the
first to invent gas-masks; they had air-raided the capitals
of their enemies, sunk them at sea long before the slow-
witted Allies had ever thought of any such weapons or

Some ten miles from our eating-place we drifted into the
street-lanes of a huddled Httle village, older than the Ger-
man Empire, in quest of the Gasthaus. Three hours of
tramping are sufficient to recall the refreshing qualities of
Bavarian beer. However reprehensible it may have been
before the war, with its dreadful eleven percentage of alcohol,
it was certainly a harmless beverage in 191 9, superior in
attack on a roadside thirst even to nature's noblest sub-
stitute, water. If the reader will promise not to use the
evidence against me, I will confess that I emptied as many
as eight pint mugs of beer during a single day of my German
tramp, and was as much intoxicated at the end of it as I
should have been with as many quarts of milk. Nor
would the natural conclusion that I am impervious to
strong drink be just ; the exact opposite is the bitter truth.
The adult Bavarian who does not daily double, if not
treble, my best performance is either an oddity or a com-
plete financial failure, yet I have never seen one affected
by his constant libations even to the point of increased




The justly criticized features of our saloons are quite un-
known in the Bavarian Gasthduser. In the first place, they
are patronized by both sexes and all classes, with the con-
sequent improvement in character. On Sunday evening,
after his sermon, the village priest or pastor, the latter
accompanied by his wife, drops in for a pint before retiring
to his well-earned rest. Rowdyism, foul language, ob-
scenity either of word or act are as rare as in the family
circle. Never having been branded society's black sheep,
the Bavarian beer-hall is quite as respected and self-respect-
ing a member of the community as any other business house.
It is the village club for both sexes, with an atmosphere
quite as ladylike as, if somewhat less effeminate, than, a sew-
ing-circle; and it is certainly a boon to the thirsty traveler
tramping the sun-flooded highways. All of which is not
a plea for beer-drinking by those who do not care for the
dreadful stufE, but merely a warning that personally I
propose to continue the wicked habit as long — whenever, at
least, I am tramping the roads of Bavaria.

These village inns are all of the same type. A quaint and
placid building with the mellowed atmosphere that comes
with respectable old age, usually of two stories, always
with an exceedingly steep roof from which peer a few dormer-
windows, like wondering urchins perched in some place of
vantage, is pierced through the center by a long, low, cool
passageway that leads to the family garden or back yard.
Just inside the street entrance this hallway is flanked by
two doors, on one of which, in old Gothic letters, is the word
' ' Gastzimmer ' ' (guest-room) . Thus the new-comer is spared
the embarrassment of bursting in upon the intimacies of
the family circle that would result from his entering the
opposite door. The world has few public places as home-
like as the cool and cozy room to which the placarded door
gives admittance. Unpainted wooden tables, polished
gleaming white with sand and water, fill the room without



any suggestion of crowding. At one side sits a porcelain
stove, square-faced and high, its surface broken into small
square plaques, the whole shining intensely with its blue,
blue-gray, or greenish tint. Beyond this, in a corner, a
tall, old-time clock with weights tick-tacks with the dignified,
placid serenity of quiet old age. Three or four pairs of
antlers protrude from the walls ; several small mirrors, and a
number of framed pictures, most of them painful to the
artistic sense that has reached the first stage of development,
break the soothingly tinted surfaces between them. In
the comer behind the door is a small glass-faced cupboard
in which hang the long, hand-decorated porcelain pipes
of the local smoking-club, each with the name of its owner
stenciled upon it. Far to the rear sits a middle-aged phono-
graph with the contrite yet defiant air of a recent comer
who realizes himself rather out of place and not over-popular
in the conservative old society upon which he has forced
himself. Deep window embrasures, gay with flowers in
dull-red pots, hung with snowy little lace curtains, are
backed by even more immaculate glass, in small squares.
This bulges outwardly in a way to admit a maximum of
light, yet is quite impenetrable from the outside, from where
it merely throws back into the face of the would-be observer
his own reflection. In the afternoon a powerfully built young
woman, barefoot or shod only in low slippers, is almost
certain to be found ironing at one of the tables. At the
others sit a guest or two, their heavy glass or stone mugs
before them. No fowls, dogs, or other domestic nuisances
are permitted to enter, though the placid, Bavarian family
cat is almost sure to look each new-comer over with a
more or less disapproving air from her place of vantage
toward the rear. It would take sharp eyes indeed to
detect a fleck of dust, a beer stain, or the tiniest cobweb
anywhere in the room.

Over the door is a sign, as time-mellowed as an ancient



painting, announcing the price of a liter of beer — risen to
thirty-two or thirty-four pfennigs in these sad war-times —
though seldom mentioning the beverage by name. That
information is not needed in a community where other
drinks are as strangers in a strange land. About the spigots
at the rear hovers a woman who might resent being called
old and fat, yet who would find it difficult to convince a
critical observer that she could lay any claim to being
either young or slender. As often as a guest enters to
take his seat at a table, with a mumbled "Scoot" she
waddles forward with a dripping half-liter mug of beer,
bringing another the instant her apparently dull but really
eagle eye catches sight of one emptied. At her waist hangs
from a strap over the opposite shoulder a huge satchel-purse
of ancient design from v/hich she scoops up a pudgy handful
of copper and pewter coins whenever a guest indicates
that he is ready to pay his reckoning, and dismisses him
with another "Scoot" as he opens the door. From a score
to a hundreQ times an hour, depending on the time of day,
the size of the village, and the popularity of that particular
establishment, a bell tinkles and she waddles to a little
trap-door near the spigots to fill the receptacle that is handed
in by some neighbor, usually an urchin or a disheveled
little girl barely tall enough to peer in at the waist-high
opening, and thrusts it out again as she drops another
handful of copper coins into her capacious wallet.

They are always named in huge letters on the street
fagade, these Bavarian Gasthduser: "Zum Rothen Hahn"
("To the Red Rooker"), "ZumGrauen Ross" ("To the
Gray Steed"), "To the Golden Star," "To the Black Bear,"
"To the Golden Angel," "To the Blue Grapes," "To the
White Swan," "To the Post," and so on through all the
colors of the animal, vegetable, and heavenly kingdom.
Whether in reference to the good old days when Bavaria's
beer was more elevating in its strength, or merely an evidence



of the mixture of the poetic and the reHgious in the native
character, one of the favorite names is "To the Ladder of

In the evening the interior scene changes somewhat.
The laundress has become a serving-maid, the man of the
house has returned from his fields and joins his waddling
spouse in carrying foaming mugs from spigots to trap-door
or to tables, crowded now with muscular, sun-browned
peasants languid from the labors of the day. Then is the
time that a rare traveling guest may ask to be shown to
one of the clean and simple little chambers above. The
wise man will always seek one of these inns of the olden
days in which to spend the night, even in cities large enough
to boast more presumptuous quarters. The establishment
announcing itself as a "Hotel" is certain to be several
times more expensive, often less clean and comfortable,
superior only in outward show, and always far less home-
like than the modest Gasthaus.

It may have been imagination, but I fandted I saw a
considerable variation in types in different villages. In
some almost every inhabitant seemed broad-shouldered and
brawny ; in others the under-sized prevailed. This particu-
lar hamlet in which the police-soldier and I took our fare-
well glass appeared to be the gathering-place of dwarfs.
At any rate, a majority of those I caught sight of could
have walked under my outstretched arm. It may be that
the war had carried off the full-grown, or they may have been
away tilling the fields. The head of the inn family, aged
sixty or more, was as exact a copy of the gnomes whom Rip
van Winkle found playing ninepins as the most experienced
stage manager could have chosen and costumed. Hunched
back, hooked nose, short legs, long, tasseled, woolen knit
cap, whimsical smile and all, he was the exact picture of
those play-people of our childhood fairy-books. Indeed,
he went them one better, for the long vest that covered his



unnatural expanse of chest gleamed with a score of buttons
fashioned from silver coins of centuries ago, of the size of
half-dollars. He sold me an extra one, at the instigation of
my companion, for the appalling price of two marks! It
proved to date back to the days when Spain held chief
sway over the continent of Europe. His wife was his
companion even in appearance and suggested some medieval
gargoyle as she paddled in upon us, clutching a froth-topped
stone mug in either dwarfish hand. She had the fairy-tale
kindness of heart, too, for when my companion suggested
that his thirst was no greater than his hunger she duck-footed
noiselessly away and returned with a generous wedge of her
own bread. It was distinctly brown and would not have
struck the casual American observer as a delicacy, but the
Niirnberger fell upon it with a smacking of the lips and a
joyful : ' Wa/ Das ist Bauernbrod — genuine peasant's bread.
You don't get that in the cities, na!"

He took his final leave at the top of the rise beyond the
village, deploring the fact that he could not continue with
me to Berlin and imploring me to come again some other
year when we could tramp the Bavarian hills together.
When I turned and looked back, nearly a half-mile beyond,
he stood in the selfsame spot, and he snatched off his red-
banded fatigue cap and waved it half gaily, half sadly
after me.

Miles ahead, over a mountainous ridge shaded by a cool
and murmuring evergreen forest, I descended through the
fields toward Beilngries, a reddish patch on the landscape
ahead. A glass-clear brook that was almost a river hurried
away across the meadow. I shed my clothes and plunged
into it. A thin man was wandering along its grassy bank
like a poet hunting inspiration or a victim of misfortune
seeking solace for his tortured spirit. I overtook him soon
after I had dressed. His garb was not that of a Bavarian
villager; his manner and his speech suggested a Prussian,



or at least a man from the north. I expected him to show
more curiosity at sight of a wandering stranger than had the
simple countrymen of the region. When I accosted him
he asked if the water was cold and lapsed into silence. I
made a casual reference to my walk from Munich. In
any other country the mere recital of that distance on foot
would have aroused astonishment. He said he had himself
been fond of walking in his younger days. I implied in a
conversational footnote that I was bound for Berlin. He
assured me the trip would take me through some pleasant
scenery. I emphasized my accent until a man of his class
must have recognized that I was a foreigner. He remarked
that these days were sad days for Germany. I worked
carefully up to the announcement, in the most dramatic
manner I could command, that I was an American recently
discharged from the army. He hoped I would carry home a
pleasant impression of German landscapes, even if I did
not find the country what it had once been in other respects.
As we parted at the edge of the town he deplored the
scarcity and high price of food, shook hands limply, and
wished me a successful journey. In other words, there was
no means of arousing his interest, to say nothing of surprise
or resentment, that the citizen of a country with which his
own was still at war should be wandering freely with kodak
and note-book through his Fatherland. His attitude was
that of the vast majority of Germans I met on my journey,
and to this day I have not ceased to wonder why their at-
titude should have been so indifferent. Had the whole
country been starved out of the aggressive, suspicious man-
ner of the Kaiser days, or was there truth in the assertion
that they had always considered strangers honored guests
and treated them as such ? More likely the form of govern-
ment under which they had so long lived had left the in-
dividual German the impression that personally it was no
affair of his, that it was up to the officials who had appointed



themselves over him to attend to such matters, while the
government itself had grown so weak and disjointed that
it took no cognizance of wandering strangers.

Whatever else may be said of them, the Germans cer-
tainly are a hard-working, diligent people, even in the midst
of calamities. Boys of barely fourteen followed the plow
from dawn to dark of these long northern summer days.
Laborers toiled steadily at road-mending, at keeping in
repair the material things the Kaiser regime had left them,
as ambitiously as if the thought had never occurred to
them that all this labor might in the end prove of advantage
only to their enemies. Except that the letters "P. G."
or "P. W. " were not painted on their garments, there was
nothing to distinguish these gangs of workmen in fields
and along the roads from the prisoners of war one had
grown so accustomed to see at similar tasks in France.
They wore the same patched and discolored field gray,
the same weather-faded fatigue caps. How those red-
banded caps had permeated into the utmost comers of
the land!

Between Beilngries and Bershing, two attractive towns
with more than their share of food and comfort in the Ger-
many of armistice days, I left the highway for the towpath
of the once famous Ludwig Canal that parallels it. To all
appearances this had long since been abandoned as a means
of transportation. Nowhere in the many miles I followed it
did I come upon a canal-boat, though its many locks were
still in working order and the lock-tenders' dwellings still
inhabited. The disappearance of canal-boats may have
been merely temporary, as was that of automobiles, of which
I remember seeing only three during all my tramp in Ger-
many, except those in the military service.

For a long time I trod the carpet-like towpath without
meeting or overtaking any fellow-traveler. It was as if I
had discovered some unknown and perfect route of my own.



The mirror surface of the canal beside me pictured my
movements far more perfectly than any cinema film, repro-
ducing every slightest tint and color. Now and again I
halted to stretch out on the grassy slope at the edge of the
water, in the all-bathing sunshine. Snow-white cherry-
trees were slowly, regretfully shedding their blossoms,
flecking the ground and here and there the edge of the
canal with their cast-off petals. Bright-pink apple-trees,
just coming into full bloom, were humming with myriad

Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckVagabonding through changing Germany → online text (page 23 of 29)